Banned Books Week: Celebrating 30 Years of Liberating Literature

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, the national book community’s celebration of the freedom to read. To commemorate this landmark anniversary, we are pleased to share this collection of significant banned and challenged books. For each year from 1982 to 2012, we have highlighted one book banned or challenged in that particular year. In most cases, these books faced significant controversy that spanned numerous years. The timeline presents only a sample of particularly notable challenges to particularly notable books during this period. All information sourced from the 2010 Banned Books Week resource guide, Banned Books: Celebrating Our Freedom to Read, edited by Robert P. Doyle (ALA, 2010); the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom; and additional content supplied by Angela Maycock, Assistant Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

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1982-09-07 09:56:28

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

In 1982, a sharply divided Supreme Court found that students’ First Amendment rights were violated when Slaughterhouse-Five and 8 other titles were removed from junior and senior high school libraries. The Island Trees (NY) School District School Board removed the books in 1976 because they were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.” In Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, the Court found that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Vonnegut’s satirical novel, published in 1969, considers themes of war and human nature, and is widely regarded as his most influential work.

1983-09-07 09:56:28

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

In 1983, four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” claiming the work preaches “bitterness and hatred toward white people and encourages deviant behavior because of references to lesbianism, premarital sex and profanity.” Maya Angelou’s autobiography, published in 1969 and nominated for a National Book award in 1970, details the poet’s early years and illustrates the power of literature in surviving trauma and adversity. Angelou’s numerous awards and honors include the National Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

1984-09-07 09:56:28

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

In 1984, “The Color Purple” was challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, CA high school honors classes due to the work’s “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.” After nine months of haggling and delays, a divided Oakland Board of Education gave formal approval for the book’s use. Walker’s novel won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983, and explores themes of racism, sexism, religion, and family.

1985-09-07 09:56:28

In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak

In 1985, “In the Night Kitchen” was challenged at the Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, WI because the book was believed to desensitize children to nudity. In Sendak’s picture book, a young boy named Mickey falls out of his clothes as he travels through his dreams to the magical kitchen of the title. In addition to being challenged, “In the Night Kitchen” was frequently defaced by those who objected to Mickey’s nudity and drew diapers or pants over Sendak’s images. The book was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1971.

1986-09-07 09:56:28

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Paterson’s novel for young people was challenged in 1986 as recommended reading for 6th grade students in the Lincoln, NE schools. Parents objected to the book’s “profanity” including the phrase “Oh, Lord” and use of “Lord” used as an expletive. “Bridge to Terabithia” won the Newbery Award for children’s literature in 1978. It tells the story of two 5th graders’ creation of a magical world far removed from their daily lives, and details the joys and sorrows of childhood, particularly the power of friendship and imagination.

1987-09-07 09:56:28

Forever, by Judy Blume

In 1987, “Forever” was challenged at the Moreno Valley, CA Unified School District libraries for “profanity, sexual situations, and themes that allegedly encourage disrespectful behavior.” It was challenged in the same year at the Marshwood Junior High School classroom library in Eliot, ME because the book “does not paint a responsible role of parents;” its “cast of sex minded teenagers is not typical of high schoolers today;” and because the “pornographic sexual exploits (in the book) are unsuitable for junior high school role models.” Blume’s 1975 novel offers a frank consideration of teenage relationships and sexuality that was unprecedented for its time. Beyond the significant controversy over “Forever,” Blume became a frequently challenged author for her many works exploring difficult subjects – including menstruation, bullying, and divorce – that face young adults.

1988-09-07 09:56:28

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

In 1988, “The Chocolate War” was challenged by a middle school principal in West Hernando, FL, who recommended the novel be removed from the school library shelves for being “inappropriate.” Published in 1974, Cormier’s novel tackled the problem of bullying at a time when this issue was not widely discussed. Frequently challenged for the violence, teen sexuality, “foul language,” and less-than-flattering portrayal of school culture it depicts, “The Chocolate War” follows a high school student who stands up to pressure and intimidation from his fellow students and teachers.

1989-09-07 09:56:28

The Satanic Verses, By Salman Rushdie

Published in 1988, “The Satanic Verses” sparked worldwide controversy for its religious content and alleged blasphemy. The novel was banned in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, South Africa, and India in 1989 because of its criticism of Islam. Sales of the book were restricted or criminalized in Venezuela, Japan, Bulgaria, and Poland. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa or religious edict, stating, “I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of ‘The Satanic Verses,’ which is against Islam, the prophet, and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, have been sentenced to death.” In the U.S., the novel was also challenged at the Wichita, KS Public Library in 1989 as “blasphemous to the prophet Mohammed.”

1990-09-07 09:56:28

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz

In 1990, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” was challenged in the Livonia, MI schools because the poems were thought to frighten first grade children. Written by Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, “Scary Stories” was followed by “More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” and “Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones.” All three titles have been challenged due to objections about the content and illustrations for children.

1991-09-07 09:56:28

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Published in 1937, “Of Mice and Men” was the target of numerous complaints in 1991. The novella was challenged as curriculum material at the Ringgold High School in Carroll Township, PA because it contains terminology offensive to blacks. It was deemed “indecent,” removed, and later returned to the Suwannee, FL High School library. At the Jacksboro, TN High School, it was challenged for containing “blasphemous” language, excessive cursing, and sexual overtones. The book was also challenged as required reading in the Buckingham County, VA schools that year because of profanity. Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and “Of Mice and Men” is one of his most widely-known and acclaimed works.

1992-09-07 09:56:28

Sex, by Madonna

The mylar-wrapped, spiral-bound book of photographs of the exhibitionist pop star Madonna in revealing and erotic poses raised challenges across the country soon after its release in October 1992. In Houston, TX, a group called Citizens Against Pornography mobilized efforts to have the book removed. The public library agreed to keep the book, but not allow it to circulate and to restrict in-library access to adults only. In Austin, TX, the county attorney told the library that to make the book available to minors in any way was illegal. In Mesa, AZ, the mayor ordered the library not to shelve the book. The Pikes Peak (CO) Library in Colorado Springs cancelled the library’s order after citizen protest. “Sex” was challenged at the Manchester (CT) Public Library, Des Moines (IA) Public Library, Champaign (IL) Public Library, South Bend (IN) Public Library and Topeka and Shawnee County (KS) Public Library. The St. Louis (MO) Public Library cancelled the library’s order after citizen protest, while the Ingham County (MI) library board declined to ban the controversial book.

1993-09-07 09:56:28

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous

In 1993, “Go Ask Alice” was removed from the Wall Township, NJ Intermediate School library by the Superintendent of Schools because the book contains “inappropriate” language and “borders on pornography.” Responding to an anonymous letter, the superintendent ordered the book removed from all reading lists and classroom book collections. It was also removed from an English class at Buckhannon Upshur (WV) High School because of graphic language in the book. At the Johnstown, NY High School, “Go Ask Alice” was challenged as a required reading assignment because of numerous obscenities. Published in 1971, the book is presented as the diary of a teenage girl and details her troubled life, particularly emphasizing the reality and perils of teen drug addiction.

1994-09-07 09:56:28

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

“The Bluest Eye” was pulled from an eleventh grade classroom at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, AK in 1994 by school administrators because “it was a very controversial book; it contains a lot of very graphic descriptions and lots of disturbing language.” The same year, it was challenged at the West Chester, PA schools as “most pornographic” and banned from the Morrisville, PA Borough High School English curriculum, after complaints about its sexual content and objectionable language. “The Bluest Eye” is among the best known works of distinguished author Toni Morrison, whose awards and honors include the Nobel Prize in 1993 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

1995-09-07 09:56:28

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Published in 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” ranks among the true classics of modern American literature and explores complex themes of justice and compassion. It has also faced significant controversy due to its consideration of challenging issues such as rape and racial inequality. In 1995, the book was challenged in Moss Point, MS and at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools because of its racial themes. It was removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA that same year, because its language and content were found objectionable. “To Kill a Mockingbird” received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and Harper Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

1996-09-07 09:56:28

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Since its publication in 1884, “Huck Finn” has been the subject of intense criticism and also acclaim. Initially dismissed by some for its “coarse” vernacular language, the book faced new objections in the twentieth century to its racial language and themes. In May 1996, a class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, alleging that the district deprived minority students of educational opportunities by requiring racially offensive literature (including “Huck Finn”) as part of class assignments. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, stating he realized that “language in the novel was offensive and hurtful to the plaintiff,” but that the suit failed to prove the district violated students’ civil rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that requiring students to read literary works that some find racially offensive is not discrimination prohibited by the equal protection clause or Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Montecito v. Tempe Union High School District). Today, “Huck Finn” remains a classic contribution to American literature and is often ranked among the truly great American novels.

1997-09-07 09:56:28

All But Alice, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

With her “Alice” series, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor documents the life of Alice McKinley from childhood into adolescence and beyond. Many books in the series have been challenged, as Alice deals with issues of family, relationships, religion, sex, and more as she grows and matures. In 1997, “All but Alice” was restricted to students with parental permission at the Monroe Elementary School library in Thorndike, ME. It was also removed from the District 196 elementary school libraries in Rosemont-Apple Valley-Eagan, MN because of a brief passage in which the seventh-grade heroine discusses sexually oriented rock lyrics with her father and older brother; the school board considered the book inappropriate for the ages of the students.

1998-09-07 09:56:28

Daddy's Roommate, Michael Willhoite

In 1998, “Daddy’s Roommate” was challenged at the Brevard County (FL) Library and at the Hays (KS) Public Library, where a resident objected to the picture book’s “teaching of the homosexual lifestyle as another way to show love.” At the Wichita Falls (TX) Public Library, when a request to have the book banned failed, the complainant kept the book from other patrons by keeping it checked out for a year. The deacon body of the First Baptist Church requested that any literature that promotes or sanctions a homosexual lifestyle be removed. After the Wichita Falls City Council established a policy allowing library card holders who collect 300 signatures to have children's books moved to an adult portion of the library, U.S. District Court Judge Jerry Buchmeyer ordered attorneys to agree to a restraining order, which put the books back in the children’s section.

1999-09-07 09:56:28

Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers

In 1999, “Fallen Angels” was removed from the Laton, CA Unified School District because the novel about the Vietnam War contains violence and profanity. The same year, it was removed as required reading in the Livonia, MI public schools because it was found to contain “too many swear words.” Set amidst the horror of war, this young adult novel confronts the realities of violence and racism in 1960s America and in the military. “Fallen Angels” received the 1988 Coretta Scott King Award, for outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

2000-09-07 09:56:28

Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey

The “Captain Underpants” series of children’s books was removed from the Maple Hill School in Naugatuck, CT in 2000, due to concerns that they caused unruly behavior among children. The books were also challenged but retained at the Orfordville, WI Elementary School library. A parent charged that they taught students to be disrespectful; not to obey authority; not to obey the law, including God’s law; improper spelling; to make excuses and lie to escape responsibility; to make fun of what people wear; and poor nutrition. The “Captain Underpants” books effectively use humor and illustrations to captivate young readers, particularly “reluctant readers” who may not otherwise enjoy reading, and inspire with their stories of ingenuity and imagination.

2001-09-07 09:56:28

Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Published in 1951 as a novel for adults, “Catcher in the Rye” gained popularity with young adult readers for its consideration of teenage disillusionment and rebellion. Controversy around the book – particularly its vulgar or “blasphemous” language, sexual content, and references to alcohol and cigarettes – began soon after its publication and has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2001, “Catcher in the Rye” was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC who believed it to be “a filthy, filthy book.” The same year, it was challenged by a Glynn County, GA school board member because of profanity, but was retained. “Catcher in the Rye” remains a classic of American literature and is widely regarded as one of the great novels of the 20th century.

2002-09-07 09:56:28

Harry Potter (Series), by JK Rowling

Beginning with “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” published in 1997, this series of seven novels dominated both bestseller lists and the imaginations of readers across the globe. At the same time, controversy over magic and witchcraft in the stories prompted frequent book banning attempts, and even book burnings. In 2002, the books were proposed for removal, along with more than fifty other titles, by a teachers’ prayer group at the high school in Russell Springs, KY because they dealt with ghosts, cults, and witchcraft. That same year, a federal judge overturned restricted access to “Harry Potter” after parents of a Cedarville, AK fourth-grader filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement that students present written permission from a parent to borrow the books. The novels were originally challenged because they characterized authority as “stupid” and portrayed “good witches and good magic.”

2003-09-07 09:56:28

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

In 2003, “The Giver” was challenged as suggested reading for eighth-grade students in Blue Springs, MO, where parents called the book “lewd” and “twisted” and pleaded for it to be tossed out of the district. The book was reviewed by two committees and recommended for retention, but the controversy continued for more than two years. Lowry’s novel for young readers has frequently attracted objections due to its “mature themes” including suicide, sexuality, and euthanasia. “The Giver” received the Newbery Medal in 1994.

2004-09-07 09:56:28

King and king, by linda De Hann

A children’s book about a prince whose true love turns out to be another prince, “King and King” faced intense scrutiny and criticism soon after its English publication in 2002 (it was originally written in Dutch). In 2004, the book was restricted to adults in a school’s library in Wilmington, NC. It was also moved from the children’s section to the adult section at the Shelbyville-Shelby County, IN Public Library because the book’s homosexual story was considered inappropriate by a parent. The following year, over seventy Oklahoma state legislators called for the book to be removed from the children’s section and placed in the adult section of the Metropolitan Library System in Oklahoma City, OK.

2005-09-07 09:56:28

It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

“It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” was published in 1994 and has faced intense criticism for its frank discussions and illustrations of the changes young people experience during puberty. In 2005, it was challenged but retained at the Holt Middle School parent library in Fayetteville, AR, despite a parent’s complaint that it was sexually explicit. It also topped ALA’s list of frequently challenged books in 2005. Two years later, the book would make national news when a woman objecting to its content in Lewiston, ME checked out copies of the book and refused to return them, prompting such headlines as, “Grandma Refuses to Return Library Book, Could Face Jail Time.”

2006-09-07 09:56:28

And Tango Makes Three

“And Tango Makes Three” is a picture book based on a true story of two male penguins that adopted an egg at New York City’s Central Park Zoo in the late 1990s. In 2006, it was moved from the children’s fiction section to children’s nonfiction at two Rolling Hill’s Consolidated Library branches in Savannah and St. Joseph, MO, after parents complained it had homosexual undertones. It was also challenged at the Shiloh, IL Elementary School library, where a committee of school employees and a parent suggested the book be moved to a separate shelf, requiring parent permission before checkout. The school’s superintendent, however, rejected the proposal and the book remained on open library shelves. “Tango” ranked as ALA’s most frequently challenged book for a record four years in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010.

2007-09-07 09:56:28

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

“Northern Lights,” published as “The Golden Compass” in North America, is the first in Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy of fantasy novels for young readers. In 2007, it was pulled from the St. John Neumann Middle and Lourdes High School in Oshkosh, WI because of concerns about what critics call its “anti-Christian message.” It was also challenged at the Conkwright Middle School in Winchester, KY because the main character drinks wine and ingests poppy with her meals, and for anti-Christian doctrine. It was challenged at the Shallowater Middle School in Lubbock, TX and pulled from library shelves at Ortega Middle School in Alamosa, CO, in both cases due to “anti-religious messages.” Similar concerns prompted the Catholic League, a Roman Catholic anti-defamation organization in the U.S., to urge parents to boycott a movie version of the book that was released in December 2007. “Northern Lights” won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1995 and was voted the all-time “Carnegie of Carnegies” in 2007.

2008-09-07 09:56:28

Gossip Girl (Series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

The “Gossip Girl” series of young adult novels detail the lives and loves of privileged New York high school students. First published in 2002, they did not generate significant controversy until the 2007 premiere of a popular television series based on the books. In 2008, “Gossip Girl” was challenged at the Leesburg (FL) Public Library because of sexual innuendo, drug references, and other adult topics. Parents, churches, and community leaders called for the novels’ removal, along with numerous other “provocative” books available to teens at the library. City commissioners voted to separate all books based on age groups. “Gossip Girl” and other books for high-school readers were subsequently moved to a separate area in the library stairwell.

2009-09-07 09:56:28

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

In 2009, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower was challenged on the Wyoming, OH high school district’s suggested reading list and restricted to juniors and seniors at the William Byrd and Hidden Valley high schools in Roanoke, VA. In a complaint that grew to include scores of young adult titles and attracted significant media attention, it was also challenged at the West Bend, WI Community Memorial Library as being “obscene or child pornography.” The library board ultimately voted to retain the book, “without removing, relocating, labeling, or otherwise restricting access.” Published in 1999, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” contains references to drug use, homosexuality, and suicide, and has drawn comparisons to “Catcher in the Rye” as an iconic novel of adolescent alienation.

2010-09-07 09:56:28

TTYL, by Lauren Myracle

Published in 2004, “ttyl” was the first book written entirely in the format of instant messaging – the title itself is a shorthand reference to “talk to you later” – and is the first book in Myracle’s “Internet Girls” series for young adults. It was challenged, but retained, in 2010 at the Ponus Ridge Middle School library in Norwalk, CT. Critics labeled its style as “grammatically incorrect” and objected to its language, sexual content, and questionable sexual behavior. “ttyl” ranked as ALA’s most frequently challenged book in 2009 and 2011.

2011-09-07 09:56:28

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

In 2011, the Richland (WA) School Board voted to prohibit “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” for all grades, though the initial complaint came in regard to its use for ninth-grade English classes. The following month, after public outcry and after board members and district committee members read the novel, the book was declared to be “outstanding” and the decision to ban it was reversed. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” explores complex issues of race, class, and identity and has come under fire for its violence, sexual content, and language. It won the National Book Award for Young Peoples Literature in 2007.

2012-09-07 09:56:28

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire

In 2012, under threat of violating state law and losing state funding, the Tucson (AZ) Unified School District voted to cut its Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and numerous other books affiliated with the MAS program were found in violation, removed from the curriculum, and stored in district storehouses. Freire’s seminal work, published in 1968 and translated into English in 1970, challenges traditional relationships between teachers and students, calling for an educational environment where learners are not treated as empty vessels for information but rather are respected as active participants in the learning process.

Banned Books Week: Celebrating 30 Years of Liberating Literature

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